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26801: Hermantin(News)Abductions for ransom soar in Haiti (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Posted on Wed, Dec. 07, 2005
Abductions for ransom soar in Haiti
Haiti has replaced Colombia as the kidnapping capital of the hemisphere. Anyone
who has any money is at risk of being snatched.
By JOE MOZINGO
PORT-AU-PRINCE - On a cool morning in October, an American missionary named Wes
Morgan was riding in his church's Toyota 4-Runner when three gunmen stormed up
to the vehicle. One put a pistol to his face.
Another shoved his Haitian driver into the back seat and took the wheel. Within
10 minutes, the 53-year-old from North Carolina said, he was driven into the
Haitian capital's Cité Soleil slum as two of the kidnappers hung out the back
windows and shot into the air to celebrate his capture.
Among Haiti's litany of woes, kidnapping has surged into an epidemic in recent
months, with an estimated eight to 10 people abducted for ransom every day --
including 25 U.S. citizens just since April -- according to the FBI. The 25
were later released, the FBI added, but three other Americans were killed
trying to resist apparent kidnapping attempts.
Security experts say the rate of kidnappings in this country of 8.1 million
people now dwarfs the notoriously high levels in Colombia, a nation of 43
million people where about 2,200 abductions were reported in 2003.
In just one day last week, U.S. missionary Phillip Snyder and 11 children in a
school bus were kidnapped in separate incidents. The students were freed hours
later under unclear circumstances, and Snyder was released the following day.
Haitian media reports said he paid an unknown ransom.
''He's out, he's safe,'' said Alejandro Barbeito, an FBI supervisory special
agent in Miami who heads one of the three bureau squads that deploy for foreign
cases like Snyder's. FBI agents routinely help when U.S. citizens are kidnapped
While the FBI said there's no indication that Americans are specifically
targeted in Haiti, kidnappings have become such a common method for criminals
to get money in this abjectly poor nation that anyone with even scant wealth is
''As far as numbers, it is worse now in Haiti than we ever saw in Colombia,''
The U.S. citizens taken hostage are mostly Haitian Americans living here or
visiting family, including a New York State trooper who was abducted in August
and later freed, the FBI says. Often, the victims are children snatched to
extort their parents.
More and more, they report being taken to Cité Soleil, a slum neighborhood so
dominated by armed gangs that Haitian police almost never go there. U.N.
peacekeepers have tried to seal off the area but kidnappers can still move in
and out. Morgan says that when he was abducted, his vehicle didn't pass a
single U.N. checkpoint on the way into the slum. Snyder was also held there.
The Haitian Red Cross appears to be one of the few groups that can move about
the slum freely. After Snyder was shot in the arm, a Red Cross medic treated
his wound, his family said.
The abductions are just one prong of the violence that has dogged
Port-au-Prince since an armed rebellion ousted President JeanBertrand Aristide
last year. While the security situation has improved in recent months, the
chaos in Cité Soleil continues despite the presence in Haiti of nearly 8,000
''Cité Soleil is the deepest wound in Haiti's belly,'' said Juan Gabriel
Valdés, the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, in an interview with The Herald last
week. He called it the most ''complicated problem'' facing the U.N. mission
The rash of abducted Americans, meanwhile, has made Haiti the No. 1 destination
for FBI kidnap investigators like Barbeito's squad. Its members advise families
on negotiating with captors, help the local authorities and arrange for FBI
evidence teams that can build cases against the kidnappers.
On Oct. 7, they flew two kidnapping defendants to Washington, where they were
indicted for holding a 9-year-old Haitian-American girl for a week, Barbeito
said. Yves Jean Louis, 24, and Ernso Louis, 19, allegedly took the girl from
her bed while she was sleeping at her family home and demanded $200,000. She
was rescued after a tip to police.
Both the FBI and U.S. State Department praise the new Haitian National Police
chief, Mario Andresol, for working closely with U.S. agents and going after
some officers allegedly involved in the kidnappings. Andresol has ordered the
arrests of more than 20 officers on charges of kidnapping, drug trafficking and
murder, according to news reports.
But Haiti provides unique difficulties for the FBI agents. In many countries,
they can zero in on the captors by tracking the location of their cellphones.
But such analysis is difficult in Haiti because of its poor cellular system and
telephone company record-keeping, agents said.
The nature of kidnapping in Haiti also is different.
In Colombia, for example, most abductions are carried out by highly organized
guerrilla and paramilitary groups that carefully select their victims and
demand large sums of money or political concessions, such as the release of
government prisoners. Negotiations can go on for months.
'In Colombia, you're snatched and you're going to the jungle for `an ecological
tour' for two years,'' said Barbeito. ``The infrastructure is in place to hold
hostages for a long time.''
The largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC,
even has doctors for its hostages, he said.
But Haiti's kidnappers usually just want quick cash and don't have the means to
feed a hostage for months, the FBI agent added.
Morgan, who said he has cancer and has had his stomach removed, needs to eat
small doses every two hours. He was kidnapped Oct. 14, less than a week after
getting out of chemotherapy.
The gunmen who captured him and his driver took them to a bare concrete shack
in Cité Soleil where a gang leader waited with an M-16 assault rifle, Morgan
recounted in an interview. The man leveled the gun between Morgan's eyes and
said he would kill him if someone didn't pay $300,000.
The leader then left the pair under the guard of a man who had a pistol. Morgan
said he called his church group, New Directions International, on his cellphone
to tell them what happened. He described his captivity as loose -- he was
allowed to step outside to urinate. He thought of escaping, he added, but
figured he would never get out of the slum.
The church contacted the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, and the FBI began
helping with the ransom negotiations, Morgan said. The same night as the
kidnapping, Morgan and the driver were released after the church paid $10,000.
Morgan said his Haitian driver knew exactly where they were held in Cité
Soleil. But because police cannot enter the slum without heavy U.N. military
backing, the kidnappers remain free.
''You'd have to take over the whole neighborhood,'' Barbeito said.